Burke, Lopez use parliamentary maneuver to delay vote on federal stimulus funds

Burke, Lopez use parliamentary maneuver to delay vote on federal stimulus funds

Ald. Edward Burke (shown) joined with Ald. Ray Lopez to delay a City Council vote on the use of federal stimulus funds. | Sun-Times file

After aldermen Edward Burke (14th) and Ray Lopez (15th) moved to postpone a vote on CARES Act funding, Lightfoot adjourned Wednesday’s meeting and summoned the City Council back at 3 p.m. Friday.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot abruptly adjourned Wednesday’s City Council meeting — and summoned aldermen back late Friday — after aldermen Edward Burke (14th) and Ray Lopez (15th) used a parliamentary maneuver to delay a vote on the use of federal stimulus funds.

The Council was poised to authorize the carryover of $68 million from the federal CARES Act, allocate $80 million for emergency rental assistance and another $156 million for administering the coronavirus vaccine.

That’s when Burke joined Lopez, one of the mayor’s most outspoken Council critics, in exercising the right of any two aldermen to delay consideration of an agenda item for one meeting.

Lightfoot responded to the delay as she has before when things don’t go her way at a Council meeting: by summoning aldermen back into session at 3 p.m. on Friday to approve the stalled ordinance.

“We’ll be coming back,” she said.

Budget Committee Chairman Pat Dowell (3rd) continued with the rest of her agenda. So did Health and Human Relations Committee Chairman Roderick Sawyer (6th).

But, after that, Ald. Greg Mitchell (7th), a Lightfoot ally, moved that the Council adjourn and return late Friday.

Confusion followed. A vote to continue with the regular order of business failed, 38 to 11.

After the meeting, Lopez said he and Burke have legitimate questions about the mayor’s decision to spend $281.5 million in federal CARES Act money on Chicago Police Department payroll costs and they won’t be silenced, no matter how often or how late the Council is summoned back to session.

“She is doing her usual pettiness. If she thinks that’s gonna be punitive that I have to come back to work on a Friday, she’s sorely mistaken. I’ll come back every day of the week if that’s what it takes to get the truth out of her,” Lopez said.

Last week, Lightfoot offered no apologies for her decision to use part of the relief money on police personnel costs. She called the raging political debate about that spending “just dumb” and a “total head-scratcher.”

“The federal government came to cities like Chicago and said, `We will provide you with reimbursable funds for monies spent in response to COVID-19.’ So we saved taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars by saying yes to the federal government,” she said, hours before the Council’s Budget Committee signed off on the spending.

“Should we have said ‘No. … we’ll incur this expense. We’ll put this burden entirely on city of Chicago taxpayers, and you can take your money elsewhere.’ That would be foolish. Of course, we didn’t do that.”

That didn’t stop Burke from questioning how CPD could possibly have wracked up $281 million in expenses between March and May of last year for performing well-being checks, screening air travelers for COVID- 19 and providing security at coronavirus testing sites and the barely-used McCormick Place field hospital.

“The numbers don’t make sense. The answers that we were given seems to stretch reality far and wide. They did 15,000 well-being checks and all these other things that were described. It just begs for more clarification,” Lopez said.

“Yes, they already spent it. But we can’t just keep giving them more and more money without having a better accounting of what’s going on with it.”

Lopez accused Lightfoot of “stretching” the boundaries of federal CARES Act dollars.

“We are exaggerating and over-extending what is considered COVID-related to try and maximize the CARES Act dollars to cover our budgetary shortfalls,” he said.

“I said that during budget [hearings]. The budget director didn’t deny that we were

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th). Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times
Ald. Ray Lopez said the city has used federal relief money “to cover our shortfalls” and if so, “we need to have a more robust discussion about where our finances truly lie and not just keep chalking everything up as COVID-related.”

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